Why I Chose To Be Army Strong
Written by TeLeah Thurston
Choosing to join the military is a heavy decision to make. Whether you choose to serve due to devotion to your country or you are led to make that decision as a result of unforeseen circumstances, it can be overwhelming. Also, with seven branches to choose from, you might wonder which branch is the right choice for you. In my story of strength and resilience, I highlight how my path was somewhat chosen for me.
Weighing My Options
When my mother gave me an ultimatum that I needed to enroll in college or I would have to join the military, I can certainly say joining the military was not my ideal choice. Although I enrolled in a couple of schools, those few applications did not satisfy my mother’s expectations. Before I knew it, I was studying three brochures: Air Force, Army, and Marines. As a young person who was already active in sports and band throughout high school, I was already disciplined and a team player — two qualities that are critical to being successful in the Army.
I knew if I had to take this path, it had to challenge me and benefit me equally. I read over these pamphlets for days and replayed the conversations I’d held with the different recruiters — weighing the pros and cons. Science and math were my least favorite subjects, so I was unsure I would be able to keep up with the academic demands of the Air Force. While only six weeks of enduring Basic Training sounded favorable, I didn’t feel it was enough of the physical challenge I needed.
Then, I considered The Few. The Proud. The Marines. Thirteen weeks of basic training, with a requirement to learn how to swim in a pressured environment, sounded like instant failure. Even now, my heart still races at the thought and yes, you guessed it — I still don’t know how to swim! I knew back then I did not have what it would take to become one of the few and proud Marines.
Then, there was the Army. Everything from the benefits, to basic training, to the job and academic opportunities were music to my ears. Especially once they told me about the Reserves and National Guard. I decided the Army was just enough of a challenge that I was ready to take on and I would figure out my college education at the same time.
Becoming Army Strong
After taking the ASVAB (Armed Services Aptitude Battery Test), choosing an MOS (Military Occupational Specialty), and completing the eleventh grade, I shipped off to Basic Training for my summer vacation. The Army Split Option Training allowed me to join the Army before turning 18 with my mother’s permission.
Though I was active in high school sports and marching band, I quickly realized that being active in those areas did not require the same amount of strength and endurance necessary for the military. At just 119 pounds, I began training. I went from being able to complete less than 10 push ups to almost maxing out my push up score and weighing in at 135 pounds — with the muscles to prove it.
I was tested physically, mentally and spiritually. When I returned to high school to complete my senior year, I already felt different from my peers. I had experienced three months of un-programming my mind to what was trending or popular in music, fashion, or the latest gossip with my friends, to programming my mind to push past limiting belief systems and considering the what ifs and hazards of war. I suddenly felt I had an obligation to take life more seriously.
Making the Most of the Journey
Joining the military as the oldest of six children, but also being sheltered growing up, had its share of ironies. Going to basic training was the first time I’d ever flown on a plane, let alone gone anywhere without my mom or family. I became the woman I am today from my childhood experiences as well as my journey in the Army.
I did my best to make the most of the experience and always find the positive. I met soldiers from all over during MWR (Morale, Welfare and Recreation) events or at social places like the infamous boardwalk in Kandahar, Afghanistan. My battle buddies and I would often have game and movie nights on the weekends or we would blast the music in the warehouse and enjoy each other’s company when we had to work late nights doing inventory.
However, it wasn’t all fun and games. There were tragic, heartbreaking moments, too. When we would report to the flightline for the send off of a fallen brother or sister in arms, we would hold space for one another, ensuring we were checking in with each other’s mental health during those times. Many times that looked like us shutting down the warehouse for the day or working in silence out of respect for the fallen.
Still, for the most part of my nine years of service, I am grateful to say that I always had great first line leadership who encouraged and motivated me. One of the most rewarding aspects of being a Veteran of the United States Army was meeting my husband as well as making life-long friends who became family.
Life as a Military Spouse and Mom
In August 2009, when I was completing AIT (Advanced Individual Training), I knew I was already on track for deploying, but I did not foresee meeting my husband and certainly not becoming a mother of four kids aging from three to six. Becoming a soldier in the United States Army not only better prepared me for life but parenthood as well.
Being a mother requires a level of servanthood and resilience that is hard to fully express in words. Carrying the title of military spouse while raising children comes with many complexities; but thankfully there are military parent support groups, childcare collectives, and parenting classes to offer support along the way.
Developing the youth of the next generation does in fact take a village. Just as one needs a battle buddy to cover them in war, a parent needs someone to cover them in rearing children. Parenthood is filled with highs and lows and the military throws in many unknowns with work schedules, relocating and position changes. Having people who understand what you’re going through and to walk through those unforeseen challenges makes the burden light.
One of the biggest challenges I often faced as a mother of four young children was not knowing where to go or what to do with them in a safe environment when my husband was away at training. Due to my anxiety and PTSD, I would rarely leave home with the four of them for activities out of fear of something bad happening or just not wanting to deal with the possibility of four tantrums. Thankfully, the ASYMCA has interactive parent and child programs like Operation Little Learners. They assisted me in learning how to be my kids’ first parent while preparing them for kindergarten.
Another great benefit of the military community is that they understand the many adversities military families face. The ASYMCA’s Children’s Waiting Room offers up to two hours of childcare so parents can take care of their own physical and mental health by being able to go to their appointments alone.
For me, being Army Strong is not only being physically and mentally tough — it’s making a daily choice to serve my family, friends, and country. Being Army Strong is knowing the strength you have in the support around you to get you through the journey of life.
Navigating Military Life
The ASYMCA has and will always be there to help families navigate the unique challenges of military life. By providing free to low-cost innovative, interactive programs and services designed especially for junior-enlisted service members, their spouses and their children, the ASYMCA helps ensure no military family is left behind.